By Scott Frano ’13
Hannah Storm Journalism Intern
On October 29, Hurricane Sandy made landfall near Atlantic City in New Jersey. With winds of 90 mph and a diameter of more than 1,150 miles, the Category 1 storm wreaked havoc on the exposed beaches and islands of New Jersey and New York, leaving damage akin to a big-budget disaster film.
Rescue and rehabilitation efforts began immediately after it was safe to enter the affected areas. Among the numerous groups that have pledged their efforts to the recovery cause are the Notre Dame clubs of Staten Island, New York City, and the Jersey Shore.
“It’s been devastating .... Thousands of homes have been disrupted, hundreds have been destroyed .... The very basics of life are gone for some people.”
Considering how exposed Staten Island is, club member Joe Delaney’s words come as no surprise. Countless houses were destroyed, affecting hundreds of thousands of people. Four members of the Staten Island club saw their homes destroyed, adding a personal element to the damage.
The Staten Island club has been coordinating its efforts with and receiving support from other Notre Dame clubs, and they have focused mostly on supplies.
“We’ve been distributing food,” Delaney said. “We’ve been distributing clothes. But right now we can’t take any more clothing, we have too much. But people need clothes. What we really need, and Notre Dame clubs around the country have responded, is money and gift cards. We set up a restricted fund in the club’s treasury so that any money that comes in to us from a club or an individual goes into that fund and then immediately to someone in need.”
The recovery process on Staten Island will be a continuing effort. Delaney said most of the basics, such as water, heat, and power, have been restored. But now begins the long-term process of rebuilding houses, businesses, and entire communities on Staten Island.
The Notre Dame Club of Staten Island will remain a part of the process, just as it has been a part of the Staten Island community since its inception in 1990.
“I’m proud to say that the Notre Dame Club of Staten Island for many years has been known as an organization that has provided service to people in need through our ‘Bread of Life’ food drive, which has for 23 years been providing food for people in need on Staten Island,” Delaney said. “It’s just a natural reaction for our club to want to jump in and help.”
New York City
The Notre Dame Club of New York City has also taken a long-term view of the recovery process.
“We’re doing research to figure out where we should spend time down the road in a day or multiple days of service because the needs stemming from this storm are going to go months and years as far as cleanup and improvement,” said Club President Dyan Rohol ’96. “That’s the perspective we have taken.”
The club’s efforts so far have been focused on the Rockaways, a peninsula in the borough of Queens that juts out from Long Island. Like Staten Island and the Jersey Shore, it was exposed to the brunt of Hurricane Sandy and suffered extreme damage.
“That whole area got hammered in a way I don’t think many people understand,” said Dan Renaldo ’83, the lead volunteer for the club’s recovery efforts. “In addition to the tremendous damage caused by the high winds and flood waters, fires started by exploding transformers destroyed over 100 homes.”
The peninsula is home to a mix of blue-collar and professional people. Renaldo said the club has been in contact with the Graybeards, a non-profit group based on the peninsula that was started after 9/11 by a group of policemen and firefighters.
As bad as the damage may be, Renaldo said the people of Rockaway Peninsula will recover.
“The only bright spots are the resiliency of the people there and that there was no loss of life,” Renaldo said. “It will take years for it to get back to what it was, and it will certainly take a year for people to get back to normal living. But they are committed.”
In many areas on the Jersey Shore, water from the ocean on one side met water from a bay on the other, resulting in major damage.
As soon as communication was possible, Notre Dame clubs began to coordinate with each other to plan relief efforts, according to Jersey Shore Club President Kerrie Debbs ’89. The Jersey Shore Club coordinated with the Club of South Jersey, led by Steve Klug ’76, as well as the Staten Island club, to bridge their efforts. The first step was to decide what sort of help was needed.
“We combined our efforts and tried to figure out the easiest way for a group of volunteers to start finding out what was needed,” Debbs said. “We found that people needed supplies; people needed help with their houses, shoveling out water from their basements .... People from our club went around with a generator and a pump and tried to pump the water out of basements.”
The process was exhausting and time-consuming for everyone involved.
“We talked to each other on conference calls, talking about what was needed and how we could coordinate our efforts,” Debbs said. “It was a lot of hours. For about four days that was about 75 percent of my time.”
Though the relief effort is still ongoing, things have gotten better. Debbs said many businesses are aiming to reopen in January or February, with plenty of time to get ready for the all-important summer season.
Debbs said she has been amazed by the outpouring of support from other Notre Dame clubs.
“It was the easiest thing,” Debbs said. “You just call up the Notre Dame club next to you and you’re instantly partners. All people wanted to do was help. There was no competition and no egos, just people rolling up their sleeves and getting stuff done. You can always count on the Notre Dame family.”